Is This Couple Headed for Divorce or Just Really, Really Hungry?

Weight Watchers! commercial, loaded with stereotypes, perpetuates the wife-mom, husband-baby myths.

Meet Matt and Meg. They’re in a commercial because they’ve lost a combined total of over a hundred pounds on Weight Watchers! And apparently they’ve also lost patience with each other.

Oh, so this is what people mean when they say it’s awkward to be around couples who argue in public? Because this is awkward. While they both do seem pleased by their results, they don’t seem especially pleased with each other.

Says Matt the Husband: “We don’t argue much. Meg usually just gets her way, and I go along with it.” Subtext: “My wife made me do this.”

Says Meg the Wife: “I think it worked for Matt because I did it for him.” Subtext: “I made my husband do this.”

See, Meg does all the cooking, while Matt can only “microwave things,” which means all the stereotypes you’ve ever heard about gender’s influence on proficiency in the kitchen must be true. Same goes for all the stereotypes that describe adult men as infants incapable of caring for themselves or paying attention to what they eat, and thus in need of a wife-mom to keep them “in check.”

No, really, Matt actually says that, “We can keep each other in check,” with regard to what the other is eating, and Meg does that little point-at-your-eyes, point-at-the-thing-you’re-watching gesture and says, “I see you,” which, uh, that kind of constant supervision does not seem like a recipe for a happy relationship to me, but what do I know? I’m fat and probably doing everything wrong.

The commercial ends with Meg saying, cutely, “Happy wife, happy life, right?” which sort of cements the idea that this whole joint diet was her idea, and which is probably meant to suggest to other wives that they can get away with this, too, IF they can successfully wrangle their husbands into dieting to make them “happy.” The couple’s banter was likely intended to look sweet and charming but instead Matt and Meg come across like two really hungry and cranky people in search of a marriage counselor.

The stereotype of the irresponsible husband in need of a wife’s discipline is not a new one, and it’s still a staple of sitcom humor even today. So Weight Watchers is really just exploiting a well-established construct, but still — does it bug anyone else that in spite of evolving ideas about gender, we’re cool with assuming that husbands (or men, in general) are inherently irresponsible and ridiculous and it’s just considered the natural course of things? And that it’s always the wife’s role to squash this free-spiritedness in favor of strict rules?

Fat, and probably doing everything wrong

Maybe I resent the fact that these stereotypes can sometimes induce me see my own marriage in caricature, even when that’s not entirely the reality. Yes, I can be practical and forward thinking when my husband is being impulsive and rash, but it goes the other way, too, depending on the circumstances. I can be irresponsible with the best of them, I assure you.

(And all of this isn’t even touching the opposite stereotype, of the emotional and madcap wife who is brought down to earth by a clear thinking man. I guess we have “I Love Lucy” to thank in part for that.)

Unfortunately, dieting because someone else forced you into it is rarely so successful as Matt and Meg’s story would suggest — I, and I’m sure many others, could tell tales of being compelled, coerced, cajoled, and even bribed with money and other material promises as motivation to lose weight as kids.

And while I’m sure the odd success story does exist, I don’t actually know anyone who lost the requested poundage and collected their cash prize, and I can say that those who failed to do so probably learned nothing from the experience so much as the notion that their weight would impair people’s ability to appreciate them for the people they are instead of how they look, now and throughout their lives — that losing weight was a tangibly valuable currency, like a pile of money or a new car.

My main concern with the many variations on the  “wife forces man to diet” tale is that it suggests that the marriage in question is predicated on certain physical conditions being met — and yeah, I realize that the truth is there are a lot of people in the world who would seriously consider divorce if their spouse got fat. I just have trouble understanding this point of view; when you promise to spend the rest of your life with someone, you’re acknowledging that you’ll be there for the healthy young years, but for the aged sick years as well.

More than that, were my spouse suddenly physically disabled by an accident or disease, I wouldn’t divorce him just because his body had changed. That’s not the main thing I love about him. Why is weight so different?

Of course, we have no reason to believe that Matt and Meg’s specific partnership is in such dire straits. This is, after all, just a tiny commercial and not a fair reflection of their lives together, and if they’re legitimately satisfied with this arrangement, it’s not my place to question their happiness. But I can resent Weight Watchers’ choice to perpetuate these stereotypes.

Weirdly, this particular commercial bucks the standard diet narrative by offering no talk about “looking better” or “feeling better,” with the sole exception of Matt’s assertion that “it helped our love life,” which I guess is daytime-TV code for “we have more sex.” Truth is, if your married sex life has fallen off it’s probably symptomatic of more than just feeling fat, but hey, let’s blame lousy or nonexistent sex on weight, too!

If couples want to diet together, then they’re entitled to make their own choices and it’s none of my business, and neither is it yours. But dieting to make your spouse — or anyone else in your life — happy is unlikely to do much other than breed resentment over being forced into a situation you would not have chosen independently. And advertising this sort of thing like it’s normal and healthy seems counterproductive to me.

But what do I know? I am, of course, fat and probably doing everything wrong.

by Lesley

Originally appeared at xoJane

 

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Comments

  1. Happy Now says:

    I resent the saying “happy wife, happy life.” To me, this insinuates that the husband is responsible for the wife’s happiness, and if she isn’t happy, she will somehow make the husband’s life less-than-happy. This also perpetuates, in my opinion, the idea that husbands’ sole focus should be to make their spouse happy. There is a kernel of truth in that both partners can influence the happiness of their partner, but this phrase doesn’t make marriage sound like a partnership. Instead it sounds one-sided.

    My marriage hit a very stereotypical crisis in the last two years and we have reinvented (are reinventing) our relationship. We have gotten past a point in our marriage that many don’t. It took hard work from both of us, and deep introspection into how and what we each contribute to the relationship. We couldn’t fix each other–we each had to fix ourselves. I have become very aware of people (mostly women) complaining about what they want, need, or are not getting from their spouse. Everything I read and learn, from “experts,” says individuals need to give (and communicate) in order to receive. My first thought is always, “What are YOU doing for your husband?” “How are you communicating what you want or need?” Of course relationships are not that simple, but the idea that this phrase embodies is one that husbands have to “make” the wife happy to have a happy marriage.

  2. Okay I was just wondering today if there had ever been a Weight Watchers ad with a man and a woman in it (because honestly until this ad I have only ever seen ads with all men or all women).

    What a damn shame the first time I find such an ad it plays on the whole, “he’s a uselsss slob that would be lost without her guidence” bit.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Advertisers spend huge sums trying to figure out, 1. who is the target audience, and, 2. what will appeal to the target audience.
    Huge proportions of items bought by the wife for the family–food, appliances, OTC meds, etc.–have the dimbulb hubby/sharp wife in control theme.
    Which tells you what the target audience is presumed to be and what the advertisers think the target audience responds to.
    Sounds to me like we have a problem with the target audience.
    Or the ads are actually turning off women….

  4. Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It is the little changes that produce the greatest changes. Thanks for sharing!

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